“Ummm, can I get a caramel macchiato, venti, skim, extra shot, extra hot, extra whip, sugar-free? Please, and thank you.”
OK, so that was the ridiculous lady in front of me. I actually ordered two kiddie hot chocolates with extra whip, but I did it in my most polite voice, being sure to smile and wish the perky little barista a good day.
Then five minutes later, I yelled at the girls for fighting over who got more whipped cream because I was really not in a friendly mood. It’s just not socially acceptable to yell at the young lady who just made an entitled prick of a drink order, even if it wasn’t mine.
I get sucked into the cycle so many times, but it just feels off to me. Why do we save our smiles for strangers?
If we’re having a shitty day, shouldn’t the little bit of friendliness we have to muster up go to our kids? Why do we put on a happy face for the world and then turn around and unload our true feelings on our innocent babies?
I know the answers to these questions. They’re a bit rhetorical. We take our frustrations out on the ones closest to us because they’re the safer audience, and because it won’t completely annihilate our public persona if we lose our temper behind closed doors. While this isn’t OK in any relationship, we should really change our awareness when it comes to children.
I’m not saying go around and start yelling at everyone when you’re aggravated, but I am saying the cashier at Target can take it if you’re a little sullen and less than responsive. At best, she won’t even notice, and at worst she might think you’re rude. Either way, as long as you don’t go on an abusive rant, she’s not even going to remember you the next day.
On the other hand, everything we say to our kids leaves an impression. My daughter still reminds me of the time I told her I didn’t care what she wore after she vetoed my fourth suggestion. “I can’t believe I have a mom who would talk to me like that,” I believe is what she said. Everyone’s kids may not be as dramatic as my own, but trust me, every word sticks! No matter what is going on in our world, the backlash should not be thrown in their direction.
If you’re stressed to the max and you only have 15 minutes of love and joy for the day, that energy belongs with them, not some stranger.
I had my own wake-up call a few weeks ago when I saw the “feelings” art project my daughter did. There was a circle divided into several sections. Each one represented a person from her world. With different colored markers, she filled in the spaces, each color corresponding to a different emotion. In my space, there was a lot of joy, but there was also a little purple, which was the color for afraid. I was humbled, to say the least, to learn that my kid is a little afraid of me.
I know some parents believe that a little fear is a good thing, that it keeps kids in line, but I’m not one of those parents. I believe in teaching respect versus instilling fear. I grew up feeling less than safe and I don’t want that for my children. I should be the safest place they can think of, their sanctuary.
When I asked her how I scare her, she said when I yell. I could have been defensive and justified that with, “I only yell after the fifth time I ask you to put your shoes on,” or, “It’s not even yelling. It’s more like an unpleasantly firm voice.”
But the only thing that really matters to me is the fact that she feels a level of fear. Now, I’d by lying if I said I’ll never raise my voice again. In a house with four kids who have selective hearing, I know that I’m never going to have unending patience. I also know that it’s important to let kids know that the boundaries you set are going to be reinforced, and sometimes that’s gonna come with the “mean mommy” tone. It’ll never be overnight perfection, but I will continue to work on staying calm, and they will work on listening — or so I hope.
What I can do, though, is be mindful of all the other times, like when I’ve had a long frustrating day and one of them asks me to play Uno, and my response is super grumpy, or like when I’m behind on a deadline, rushing and snapping at anyone who talks to me when I’m in my “go” mode, or the other things that have nothing to do with how many times I ask them to turn off the light when they leave a room.
When I am in a mood, I need to keep that nastiness away from them. That might mean wearing a slight shrew face when I’m running errands and slowly unloading it on the world, or hiding in a closet with a brownie and the sound of ocean waves until I’ve found my Zen — whatever I have to do to give the best of myself, on my worst days, to the little people that deserve it the most.